From Drumclog to Shipwreck on the Orkneys

An account of the rising and attacks on Glasgow, the Battle of Bothwell Bridge by Rev A Smellie (in 1908)

Glasgow - Bothwell Brig - Greyfriars Churchyard

‘The Crown’ shipwreck on Orkney

“After the Sabbath-day on which they sent Claverhouse flying at Drumclog, the Covenanters knew that they must hold together, because their enemies would muster soon to punish them.  They grew rapidly in numbers; for there is a con­tagion in victory. Within three weeks the two hundred and fifty had multiplied into a legion of between five and six thousand, an army with which memorable feats might easily have been accomplished.

Probably the ultimate issues of the campaign were never in doubt; the soldiers of the Kirk could not vanquish the overwhelming forces that the King was able to send against them. But, for months, they might have maintained a guerrilla war, and, in the end, have extorted from their persecutors terms that were not unfavourable. The radiance that broke over them at Loudoun Hill, like a gleam of light bursting through a bank of cloud might have increased until the cloud was dispelled. They were themselves to blame that the result was mournfully different. Their foes on this occasion were not Charles Stuart, and the Duke of Lauderdale, and General Dalzell, and John Graham; they were the men of their own household. 

The little band of fighters had pursued their adversaries till they were within sight of the gates of Glasgow, and then, calling a halt, had returned to the friends whom they left at Drumclog. They had allies within the walls; and, if they could have effected, an entrance, the likelihood is that Claver-house must have prolonged his flight towards Edinburgh and the east. But they were few and worn with the battle and the chase; and the King had a considerable garrison in the town. So they withdrew for the meantime; and yet they came back soon: Glasgow was a prize worth making an effort to win. In anticipation of their decision Lord Ross hurriedly threw up barricades in the four principal streets, and stationed his musketeers at certain points of vantage, bidding them watch for the approach of the enemy.  It was still early on the morning of Monday when the Covenanters appeared; they had not allowed the grass to grow beneath their feet. 

They broke into two parties, one going towards the Gallowgate, the other towards the High Kirk and the College.  But their assault was badly managed and futile.  From behind the barricades the guns of the Royal troops flashed out flame and death.  At least seven were killed, and their comrades were compelled to beat a retreat. “Thes wes the warmest day I saw the yeare,” Ross reported in a message written the same evening to his superior, the Earl of Linlithgow.  

The Whigs spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday marching to and fro; they encamped now in one place and now in another. But in this interval the men who had re-pulsed them were ordered by the somewhat bewildered and inconclusive Linlithgow, who had led his army from Edinburgh to the west but shrank from the risk of striking a blow to leave their quarters within the gates and to join his regiments outside.  

The Covenanters were quickly apprised of this change in the tactics of their foe, and, having sent a search party in advance of their main body to reconnoitre and bring them tidings of how the land lay, they marched again to Glasgow, and stationed themselves in and around the place: it was in their hands now.  This was on Friday, the 6th of June; and the midsummer sun seemed for a little to be shining at its brightest on their desperate cause.  For, ever since their success on the Sabbath, they had been gathering new recruits. From Ayrshire, from Renfrew, from Lanark, from Stirling in the north and Galloway in the south, com-panions hastened to join them.  

Already they were so formid-able, that the rebellion began to trouble the authorities not only in Holyrood but also in Whitehall.  But they kept Sir Robert Hamilton in the chief command-Sir Robert Hamilton of Preston and Fingalton, a young man whose thirtieth birthday was still in front of him.  Gilbert Burnet, when he was Pro-fessor of Divinity in Glasgow, had been his tutor, and under-stood him well.  He was not without his “lively and hopeful” traits, the Professor said, but his fondness for dissent in its most intransigent varieties would soon, he predicted, turn him into “a crackbrained enthusiast.” 

Events were to prove the correctness of the forecast.  In the fact of his presidency lay the presage of calamity and gloom for the soldiers whom Hamilton captained and irritated and devoted to destruction. 

It is time that we studied the spiritual features of this man. The witnesses to the reality and depth of his personal Christianity are many and trustworthy. Plainly, One was his Master, even Christ.  He gives himself an involuntary testi-mony to his citizenship in the Heavenlies, in those private letters of consolation that he wrote to friends in trouble. They tell us, as Mr. Hill Burton says, that he “had his tender-nesses”, and that these were “peculiarly rich and overflowing.” But he had his narrownesses and antipathies as well, and they travelled beyond the boundaries both of charity and of reason.  He could not brook the presence of any one, who failed to see each of the many facets of truth from the same angle as himself.  

He was willing to suffer rather than swerve from this morbid conscientiousness. At a later period, he would not return from exile in Holland to take possession of his estate of Preston, simply because he could swear no oath of loyalty to William and Mary. Thus his scrupulosity in-flicted injury on himself.  But it was more mournful that exclusiveness so rigid did infinite harm to others, and wrecked the army of the Covenant. 

The Indulgence was the trouble. Sir Robert Hamilton, purist as he was, abhorred it and its authors and the con-sequences it had brought about. But, if this had been all, nobody among the six thousand Covenanters would have quarrelled with him. He pushed his contention to extreme lengths. 

Not only did he refuse to hold intercourse with the ministers who had gone back to their parishes, and with the congregations tolerant enough to hearken to them, but he shut out from his fellowship those who, while themselves disapproving of the Indulgence, were not prepared to ostracise the weaker brethren to whom it had seemed a boon.  

He insisted that these mediating and forgiving souls were guilty of laxity and sin. God, he held and proclaimed, could never give His benediction to a fighting force, which embraced within its ranks men who would deal gently with unfaithfulness, and would eat and drink with traitors.  They must be clean who carried His vessels and wrestled for His truth. Such was Hamilton's untenable creed.  

For its justification, he would point back to the example of the Protesters in denouncing the Public Resolutions. But he went far beyond Rutherfurd and Guthrie. It was against the participation in the work of the Lord of actual Malignants, King's votaries without admixture, that the Protesters lifted their voices; they said no word against bearing and forbearing with brothers who fell short of their own standard.  It is difficult to imagine that they would have commanded a strictness to which theirs was as moonlight unto sunlight. 

Sir Robert Hamilton was head and chief of this old Hard Church, if one may borrow Mr. R. H. Hutton's pregnant phrase: the Hard Church, which “believes in a Hard Master,’ which” thinks that it is not the endurance, but the infliction of hardness that makes a true soldier of Christ,” which walks about like “a theological detective, without any care or com-passion for the sins of the defaulters it arrests.” 

Yet there were other leaders whose opinions agreed with his.  Hackston and Henry Hall and William Cleland, Thomas Douglas the preacher too, were, almost but not altogether, of one mind with their unbending captain.  Perhaps Major Learmont and John Paton of Meadowhead, those stout soldiers who had fought with such spirit at Pentland, leaned to the same drastic side; but, if they did-and there is doubt about the former-they were not loud-tongued and insistent in promulgating their tenets. And there were good men, ready to contend to the death for Christ's Crown and Covenant, whose sympathies were wider. There was James Ure of Sliargarton, for instance, a gentleman of Perthshire, who, prompted by deep conviction, had left Episcopacy for Presbytery, and who now brought to the aid of the blue banner a troop of volunteers from the northern counties. And there was John Welsh, our brave field-preacher, who came from Dumfriesshire to the camp.  He had never tampered with the Indulgence. Dear as were the memories of the Kirk of Irongray, he would not wound conscience by re-entering it through the favour and patronage of Government. But yet he could not find it in his heart to excommunicate those who were not so stalwart as he was himself; he would not say that they had erred unpardonably when they returned to, the pulpits for which they felt an ineradicable affection.  Because these were the thoughts he cherished and avowed, Sir Robert Hamilton and his disciples were angry with John Welsh, and would have sent him away. They would have no association, however indirect, with heresy and lapse and compromise. 

For weeks the wretched debate went on between men who should have been of one spirit and one step.  Every new band of helpers, as it arrived, was compelled to declare itself for the party of rigour or for that of comprehension; there was no neutral zone, no golden mean, no permission to see the truth on both sides. The army determined, at one stage, to draw up a manifesto-a “Declaration” was the word of the time.  

But over this the leaders quarrelled: Hamilton and his intimates demanding that the document should contain a definite repudiation of the Indulgence; the others answering that “neither were we a Parliament nor a General Assembly “to judge such matters, and that”, if we meddled with them, it would hinder many to come who would be as willing as we, and would make friends to become enemies.” 

There were moments when the strife grew acrimonious, and hot words were spoken. “We told them”, says James Ure in his narrative, “they were more taken up with other men's sins than they were with their own, and that it was our duty first to begin with ourselves.” Again, on Sabbath the 15th, when on Hamilton Moor the ministers were about to preach to the soldiers, and when Sir Robert required that in the sermons the Indulgence should be condemned with no bated breath, “we told them that it was the height of supremacy to give instructions to ministers what to preach; we would hear no such doctrine.” More than once the moderate men were on the eve of leaving; it needed John Welsh's eloquence and the near approach of the common enemy to prevent them from departing in heartache and despair. “For aught that we saw,” they complained, “we were come here to fight among ourselves.” What a sorrow's crown of sorrow it is” 

And, all the while, their doom drew closer to them. From London a large force had been despatched; and, when this was added to the Scottish contingents, the Royalists numbered about fifteen thousand horse and foot.  The young Duke of Monmouth, Charles's son and, meantime at least, Charles's favourite, had the principal command. He was popular for his good looks, his courtesy, his Protestantism, although the Protestantism was neither very intelligent nor very ardent. He was disposed, too, to lenient courses; it was an encouraging omen for the Covenanters that he received the first place, and that Dalzell had to be content with standing second.  

Many of them were inclined to negotiate with Monmouth; and, though the extremists resisted the proposal, the moderate men managed to carry their point. Another Sabbath had come round, the third since Drumclog. Soon after daybreak two envoys went to interview the Duke - David Hume and a Galloway landlord named Murdoch. He gave them a not unkindly welcome, and listened while they read the Declara-tion of some days before. Then he answered that their petition ought to have been worded in humbler terms, but that, if they were willing to lay down their arms, he had no intention to deal harshly. They returned to their comrades, to report how they had fared.  But the proviso about disarming was a fatal obstacle. Sir Robert Hamilton laughed loudly when he heard it. “Yes, and hang next!” he said. Manifestly the strife must be fought out to the end.  Yet there was another pause before the artillery began to play.  Hume and his friend had something more to ask, and Major Maine went over from the King's lines to ascertain what it was. Had not Monmouth brought with him, they inquired, “terms of accommodation from England” and would he acquaint them with their purport? But these were questions to which the General was not prepared to give any reply.  

The parleyings were over, and the time for decisive action had arrived. The combatants confronted each other on opposite banks of the Clyde. Between them was the old and steep and narrow Bridge of Bothwell, not more than twelve feet wide, and guarded in the centre with a gatehouse. The King's army was much the larger.  It was well officered. The Duke of Montrose led the cavalry, the Earl of Linlithgow the infantry. Claverhouse rode at the head of his dragoons, and the Earls of Home and Airlie were in charge of their respective troops; Lord Mar held a command of foot. Dalzell's commission, much to his annoyance, was late in arriving from London; and he did not get to the scene of action until everything was over.  

That the Covenanters should succeed in beating back opponents so disciplined and so superior in strength was improbable; but history records exploits more arduous. The advantages of position were with the Presbyterians.  If they could only have abandoned their controversies, and gone to work singing the Drumclog Psalm, a new victory might have been theirs. But at Bothwell they were without unity, with-out buoyancy, without competent general-ship. Let us listen again to James Ure: “We were not concerned with an enemy, as if there had not been one within a thousand miles of us.  There were none went through the army, to see if we wanted powder and ball. I do really think there were few or none that had both powder and ball, to shoot twice.” From such infatuation nothing could result but defeat. The Covenanters had predestined themselves to failure and shame. 

There were some who did their best.  Ure was one, and Henry Hall was another; but the honours of the lamentable day are with David Hackston of Rathillet. For hours, with three hundred men of Galloway to aid him, the genuine and great-hearted soldier held the bridge.  After awhile, the three hundred, wearied with their vigil and struggle, begged, not to be withdrawn, but to have reinforcements from the larger mass behind them; but no reinforcements were sent. Then they asked for ammunition, and were told that the ammunition was at an end. At last Hamilton gave them the order to fall back upon the main body. They obeyed “with sore hearts,” as Hackston writes; for they felt that the order was the last folly of this black and bitter Sabbath, and that now their fate was sealed.  

The barrier which hitherto had hindered its advance having been removed, the Royal artillery slowly and steadily crossed the Clyde; and soon, from the same bank as that on which they stood themselves, the Duke's cannon poured death into the lines of the Whigs. Even yet the Royalist triumph might have been postponed. 

But a panic seized the Covenanters. Numbers of them fled recklessly and at random. Only Rathillet and his companions maintained their ground, until they too seeing that all was over, retired from the moor in sullen silence. The rout was complete.  By ten o'clock in the morning, every hope was extinguished; and from the King's side a messenger took horse for Edinburgh, bearing news of the victory.  “Never,” Wodrow moralises, “was a good cause and a gallant army, generally speaking hearty and bold, worse managed; and never will a cause, though never so good, be better managed when divisions, dis-jointings, and self creep in among the managers.” 

No fewer than four hundred perished in the death-chase; some accounts, indeed, would double that number. Twelve hundred were taken prisoners; and very many of these would have been massacred in cold blood, if Monmouth had not interposed. He declared emphatically that they must be spared - and he refused to modify his injunction, although Dalzell, hurrying to Bothwell Brig some hours too late for the battle, rated him soundly for it. 

We may doubt, however, whether the captives did not suffer worse pains than their brothers emancipated by the swift anguish of death. Bound two and two, they were dragged eastward to Edinburgh. No one on the wearisome road dared extend to them a hand of succour.  When the capital was reached, the mob greeted them with the taunt, “Where's your God, where's your God?” the glib interrogation of that shallow atheism which has no hardihood of faith to penetrate into the thick darkness where God is. Two of the ministers, adherents of Welsh rather than of Robert Hamilton, were executed at the Mercat Cross: John Kid one of them, and the other John King - the same John King whom Claverhouse had captured immediately before Drumclog, and who had enjoyed three weeks of liberty only to fall again into the enemy's clutches.  

Five Covenanters were hanged on Magus Moor, though not one of them had a personal share in the death of the Archbishop. As the Edin-burgh gaols could not hold the crowd of other prisoners, a part of Greyfriar’s churchyard was transmuted into a place of confinement; and into it they were penned like sheep. Sentinels guarded them day and night. They were exposed to sun and rain, wind and weather; for there was no covering above their heads-none at least until, with the approach of winter, some wooden huts were erected, “which was mightily boasted as a great favour." Their bed was the bare ground.  

They were poorly fed, and it was next to impossible for friends to convey any comfort to them.  In this plight they lived, like Samson in Gaza, “a life half dead, a living death, and buried,” until the dreary weeks of November. A few hundreds had been freed on giving their pledge to desist in the future from armed resistance; here and there one, more fortunate than his comrades, had gained the goodwill of his gaolers; some had contrived to escape across the churchyard walls; some were dead. Only two hundred and fifty-seven remained out of the twelve hundred. 

For these two hundred and fifty-seven, new distresses and ignominies were kept.  Early one November morning, they were marched by a party of soldiers from the Greyfriar’s to a vessel, the Crown, lying in Leith Roads; the Privy Council had decreed that they should be banished to the West Indies, and sold for slaves.  On board the ship their pains came to a climax. They were crowded under deck in a space’ not sufficient to hold one hundred people. Those with some health were forced to continue standing, so that the sick and dying might lie down on the hard boards.  

Hour after hour, in the poisonous air, many fainted away. Their meat was stinted, and water was doled out with a niggardly hand.  “All the troubles we met since Bothwell,” one of them, James Corson, wrote to his wife, “were not to be compared to one day in our present circumstances. Our uneasiness is beyond words. Yet the consolations of God overbalance all; and I hope we are near our port, and heaven is open for us.” 

Most of them were nearer their port than they surmised, and that port the best; their sails “were set to reach Jerusalem.” Off the coast of Orkney, in a night of tempest, the captain ran his vessel close inshore and cast anchor, locking and chaining the hatches over the prisoners in the hold. In the darkness, at ten o'clock, the ship was dashed against the rocks, and was broken in two. The sailors made a bridge of the mast and escaped to the rough beach; nearly sixty of the Covenanters were able, in one way or in another, to follow their example. But the other two hundred were drowned, only a few of their bodies being washed to the land, to be buried at a place called Scarvating, where one may see the graves to-day.” 

From; ‘Men of the Covenant’ by Rev A Smellie, published 1903 


Born at Stranraer in 1857, Alexander Smellie was educated at Edinburgh where he graduated with distinction in Arts in 1878.  His father was a minister of "con­spicuous gifts and fervent piety" in the Original Secession Church and Alexander Smellie became a minister of that denomina­tion in 1880. After twelve years successful ministry at Stranraer he moved to London to assume the editorship of the Sunday School Chronicle; but he preferred the work of the ministry to a literary career and accepted a call to Thurso in 1896. For the last twenty-three years of his life he laboured in the Lanarkshire town of Carluke where he died, aged 66, on 23rd May 1923. 

Though a preacher of “rare persuasive-ness and quiet power” (he might, had he wished, have been the successor of Alexander Whyte in Edinburgh) it was through the charm of his pen that Alexander Smellie obtained a world-wide reputation. Possibly the finest devotional writer of his day, he combined the accuracy of a scholar with the beauty of a literary artist. “In him high spirituality and staunch evangelicalism were blended with vast knowledge, warm human sympathy, and fine literary culture.” 

His various books were widely read and 80,000 people used the daily notes he wrote for the International Bible Reading Association. Men of the Covenant was his longest and best-known work, and its lasting worth was recognised when Edinburgh University conferred its Doctorate of Divinity upon the author in 1908.

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